Being an Advocate for the Elderly

Life and Happiness

Last year my mom spent some time in the hospital and I wrote several blogs about it. One (that you can read here) was about how, as an aging patient, she deserved better treatment than she received. This year, I have a similar story about my dad.

Mom called me last week to say that Dad was in the ER due to a supposed heart attack. He had some shoulder pain and wasn’t sure what it was so they decided to get a medical opinion. Here is where the first problem came in.

  1. Their primary care physician couldn’t have cared less. Keep in mind at this point it seemed just like some shoulder pain – maybe a sprained muscle – but it really hurt. Mom called the primary care’s office and was put on hold for about ten minutes. Dad was in so much pain at this point that she hung up and they went to the hospital instead.

Now… I agree that since we now know it was a heart attack it was the best place for him to go, but this is also not the first time this has occurred with his doctor’s office. In fact, after he came home he was told he had to make a follow-up appointment with his primary so Mom called and was on hold this time for THIRTY minutes. In addition, I so often hear ER people saying, “They could have just went to their primary.” (Now, not in this case…) I wonder if they are aware that sometimes the primary office’s are just jerks. Your ER may be loaded up with patients simply because no one else cares to see your patient.

While in the ER waiting on tests (I have more patience in this area than Dad does since I’ve been through this several times), Dad had to go to the bathroom. Up until this point he had barely asked the nurses for anything – not even food or water. He was doing his best to be patient too. He had been there since Noon and it was now about six or seven pm. They had told him he had to stay and we were waiting on a room. He had only gone to the bathroom once and needed assistance due to all the things hooked up to him. Plus they told him not to go alone. Now, he had to go so he hit his button.

We waited patiently.

My husband decided to leave and go home to feed our dog. I asked him to mention Dad’s plight to the nurses as he was going past. His button was still dinging and blinking. My dad squirmed and fidgeted. He HAD to go. About five minutes passed. I went out to the nurse’s station where about three people stood chatting to one another. One woman looked at me but did not ask what I needed. Please know – I have no idea what each of their duties are. But SOMEONE could have said, “Can I help you?” Even if it isn’t their job – they could have asked. Finally, a nurse asked me and I explained that Dad’s bell had been going off for awhile and he urgently needed to use the restroom.

2. The ER staff couldn’t have cared less. I was told, “Well we were busy.” She then went to help my dad to the restroom. Here’s the thing… I get busy. I do. And I could NEVER, EVER be a nurse. Ever. But at least THREE people were sitting doing absolutely NOTHING. You were not ALL busy. YOU may have been busy, but you need to take the attitude out on the people you work with because they failed you. I simply was being my dad’s advocate when he needed to pee. In addition, this was a heart patient. What if he had been having a heart attack? Or unexplained pain? Would it have taken that long to get to him? ADDITIONALLY, would you have rather cleaned up a pee-soaked bed?

When he was in his room, we were told Dad would have to undergo a heart cath the next day. We could not be told a time. When I called in the morning they still said they had no idea so I waited until after lunch to visit. He was in the heart cath lab awaiting his test and a wonderful nurse (Morgan) took me to the floor he was on and allowed me to see him. I arrived around 1:30 and he had been waiting since 11. Fine, fine. Some people have more urgent needs and although Dad was a bit peeved, he would have been waiting up in his room just the same. The staff there seemed to be attentive and nice. Although we were worried, it was comforting to be among seemingly competent and easy going people.

After his test, he had a blood pressure cuff on to keep monitoring his BP. During the hour after his test I realized something else.

3. Sometimes people who should pay attention – don’t. While the staff seemed to be on their game, I noticed that his cuff wasn’t deflating all the way. The nurse noticed too and released the cuff and tried again. She did two things wrong: A) She started the cuff and left the room, B) She didn’t move the cuff to a proper position. When another nurse came in to talk to Dad, she stood on the cuff side. Her back was to me, but I was watching the cuff while trying to hear what she was saying. Soon, I noticed the cuff was once again not deflating. This time it kept INFLATING so much that my dad’s arm turned purple. Now… I waited. I was patient. I thought, surely she sees this. But finally had to say, “Uh… is that cuff ok? His arm looks funny.” Dad then mentioned his arm hurt. She quickly deflated the cuff and removed it. His arm went back to a normal color. Not only had it not been working, it had pressed on the IV he had in that arm, causing it to hurt worse. Dad winced in pain but was relieved when it was taken off. He mostly said nothing (except to me) about his discomfort.

The next day we were expecting him to go home. His heart cath doctor had said that she saw no reason he couldn’t, but she did explain that it wasn’t up to her – the floor doctor had to decide. There had not been any additional heart damage and he had not gotten a stent implanted. Again, we waited patiently. I called in the morning and was told two doctors would have to see him and approve his release – the floor doctor and the cardiac doctor. I said, “Oh, I think the heart doctor already gave the approval yesterday.” They did not believe me… that’s okay. Maybe she didn’t sign a form or something. I waited again until after lunch and went to see Dad.

No one had been in to see him. “A few nurses” had been by and taken blood he said. Several, he told me, had poked his one arm so much (the one with the cuff issue from the day before) that it hurt constantly. His arm looked pretty beat up. I went to talk with the nurse’s at their station.

Again – no one acknowledged me for several minutes. A few people looked at me, but said nothing. I stood patiently waiting, I did not want to interrupt – perhaps there was something going on that was unseen by me. Finally, someone did ask and I explained I was wondering when the doctor would be around because my dad was waiting on going home. Again I received attitude. “We have no idea, whenever the doctor comes,” “I guess I could call him, but it’ll still take awhile,” and “I don’t think he’s able to go home today.” (PET PEEVE: Don’t tell me something if you don’t know it to be true just to get me off your back.) I don’t believe I gave any attitude the first time around – I tried to be pleasant, understanding, simply questioning (I even literally had my hat in my hands) – but the second time I spoke I gave attitude back. Tit for tat. I pushed. They called the doctor. I regained my nice stance and returned to his room to wait. Within two hours my dad was on his way home. At 5 pm. He had waited all day for the doctor to say, “Ok, you look fine, seem to be doing well. You can go home.”

How long would it have been had I not pushed? Would he have even gone home that day? Would he have spent another night in the hospital where he didn’t need to be, wasting insurance money?

Now, listen, don’t get me wrong, being a nurse is a thankless job, I’m sure. They get a lot of people griping at them day after day. They are undervalued and probably underpaid. I could never do the job. Not for one hour. But being a GOOD nurse is a dying breed. Being a CARING person is a dying breed it seems. And you are caring for the person who has cared for me all my life. Their lives are now in your hands. If my parent is uncomfortable, in pain, in need of something or simply wants to go home – I want you to try a little harder to accomplish what they need.

I do think of God’s words when I’m in these situations:

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

It’s hard to be pushy. It’s hard to be a “hard ass” (forgive the expression). It’s hard to say, “Hey…you’re not doing your job here” when, maybe I don’t know the whole story. But… darnit… this is my parent. This is our elderly. This is a person, completely helpless, in need of help, asking you to just do your job. What if they didn’t have me to advocate for them?

These above verse apply to all of us.

I will say, in closing today, that my dad experienced two really wonderful nurses. Tim and Morgan were always full of smiles, always quick to respond and always joyful. They are the names I remember BECAUSE they were so kind and thoughtful and caring. Thank you to them. I wish more people were like you.

How have you had to be an advocate for someone else? Help me in this season of caring for my parents – what else can I expect? What could I have done better?


2 thoughts on “Being an Advocate for the Elderly

  1. WOW, I am sure glad I don’t have Doctors like you have, nor hospitals. I had a stroke 8 years ago and the care I received then and since has been great. At my Drs. office I never have long waits and my Dr. is attentive and caring. I could tell more good stories but just to keep it short, my care has been very good.

    1. I’m glad for you! I feel like sometimes it’s worse for the elderly. I have great care too but haven’t been in the hospital. The specialists for both my parents are great!

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